Woodwind students present entertaining, varied music at St Andrew’s lunchtime concert

Wind Ensembles of the New Zealand School of Music

St. Andrew’s on The Terrace

Wednesday, 24 May 2017, 12.15 pm

To hear young performers is always a pleasure; here we had seven young woodwind players, along with three pianists.  The first piece used  a student pianist, and the Bach work was unaccompanied.  Hugh McMillan and Kirsten Robertson were authoritative pianists for the other items.

Bridget Douglas, principal flute with the NZSO is acting Head of Winds, and she introduced the concert.  After that, the players introduced their items, and it was pleasing that all used the microphone, so their words could be heard clearly.

A trio opened the programme: Leah Thomas and Laura Brown (clarinets) and Tasman Richards (piano), playing Mendelssohn’s 2nd Concert Piece.  Grove tells me that this was written in 1833, for basset horn (a close relative of the clarinet) and piano.  The excellent introduction from Leah Thomas explained that the players decided to use two clarinets.  They alternated the music between them, and this worked well.  The presto opening movement was lively and played with flair, with a good variety of dynamics.

The following andante included passages for clarinet alone; these were played with gorgeous subtlety.  The allegro grazioso last movement again had beautiful parts for the clarinets, but the piano was rather ‘rum-te-tum’.   The clarinettists produced wonderful tone, and were accurate and confident.

A Bach Cello Suite on saxophone!!?   Peter Liley explained that the range of pitch of the baritone saxophone he was using was the same as that of the cello.  But I have to say that I found the tone in his ‘Allemande’ from the Suite no.1 a bit weird, so different is the timbre from that of a stringed instrument.  There is not the variety of tone colours as are attainable on a cello.  Nevertheless the higher notes can be very sweet, and the player was well in command of his instrument.

Telemann followed; his Sonata for Oboe and Continuo in A minor  began with a lovely andante from oboist Finn Bodkin-Olen.  Kirsten Robertson’s was a very busy part, played judiciously and producing a fine tone, as indeed did Bodkin-Olen’s oboe.  The vivace second movement was clear and joyful.  This was a splendid performance.

For something completely different, Billie Kiel played on clarinet Malcolm Arnold’s Sonatina for clarinet and piano, Op.29.  This was a challenging selection, with snappy melodies and delightful quirky passages and techniques, all of which Kiel played with the competence of a professional.  The piece’s two movements were both fast.

However, the reliance of the accompanist on reading his music on an iPad or similar had an obvious disadvantage when it seemed that his foot-pedal for the device didn’t work, and he could not continue, making an unwritten break in the piece.  From there he had to rely on a finger to stab the screen in order to turn the pages.

I was not familiar with the name Gaubert (and nor is Grove), but Google is.  Philippe Gaubert lived from 1879 to 1941.  Like many French composers, he was obviously keen on the flute.  His Madrigal for flute and piano was a complete change of mood from the Arnold work, being calm and pastoral.  The flowing accompaniment had its own charm.  It was a thoroughly enchanting performance by Samantha McSweeney and Kirsten Robertson.

The concert ended with the Rondo: allegretto from Weber’s Clarinet Concerto no.1 in F minor, Op.73.   As Frank Talbot, the performer, explained in his introduction, Weber was using the concerto to demonstrate the latest improvements to the clarinet. This third movement was a spirited piece, full of interest and liveliness, and played with assurance and technical mastery.  While the soloist had pauses, Hugh McMillan was kept busy substituting for a symphony orchestra.  It was a good work with which to end the concert.


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